Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
For the past several years, Smoky Mountain Toys for Tots has stored and distributed toys out of a location in Holly Springs Plaza at U.S. 441 Bypass in Franklin where there is still an Ingles Market. All that changes by June 30. Coordinator since 2006, Randy Hughes said he was informed that Ingles, which purchased the shopping center that accommodated the former Walmart, is planning to renovate the Toys for Tots space and other spaces in the shopping center.
“A few years ago, we were serving between 400 and 500 children,” said Hughes, “but now we’ve grown so large and provide toys to about 2,400 kids a year in Macon, Jackson, Haywood, and Swain counties in North Carolina and Rabun County in Georgia. So we need, ideally, about 6,000 square feet of space to sort and distribute out of. To just store the toys, we need at least 1,000 square feet.”
Toys for Tots was founded by a United States Marine Corps reservist in 1947 as a way to make sure underprivileged children received toys at Christmas. However, the volunteer-run organization has grown so that when families loose homes due to fires, accidents, and natural calamities, it can replenish and provide toys for affected children year-round, not just at Christmas. Recently, in fact, Hughes said toys were distributed to the children of a family that lost their home to a fire.
Besides toys, Toys for Tots donates books through a 10-year-old collaborative literacy effort with Scholastic, Inc. Recently, Toys for Tots and Scholastic donated 1,000 books to South Macon Elementary School so that children have access to free books, which will be distributed by the school administrators.
“I’ve been looking, looking, looking, and I can’t find any place to relocate Toys for Tots,” said Hughes, who oversees a team of about 15-25 volunteers. “I’ve reached out to Macon County and there is one possibility that I need to learn more about. If we don’t find a place, I’m not sure what we will do.”
Hughes is hoping that someone has an unused building in any of the counties that Smoky Mountain Toys for Tots services, out of which Toys for Tots can operate.
“And they can get a tax write off because we’re a 401(c)3 organization,” he said.
Hughes can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.